Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Locusts: Part Two

Dennis and I first met each other in Gunnison at a 5k in 1986.  The town has changed a lot since then but not so much that it’s lost its feel, it’s the crusty old ranchers and the college, and the tourist industry.

This weekend was our 28th anniversary, a day we share with our friend Kirk Apt’s birthday. Kirk, Keith, Dennis and I have a long, shared history as friends. They live in the Grand Junction area now and we don’t see them nearly as often as we used to.

We wanted to go up to Crested Butte and Gunnison for the weekend and take the girls with us. It would be their first longer road trip than 3 hours, and their first time staying in a hotel. Kirk and Keith were planning to go up to Crested Butte, too, so it was a perfect opportunity for us to get together again.

We left Fort Collins Friday morning ahead of the worst weekend traffic, with lots of stops along the way- lunch in Buena Vista, our property, the Mountain Spirit winery near Salida and then over Monarch down into the green Gunnison Valley along Tomichi Creek.

That same feeling (link to old post) came over me as we descended from Monarch Pass, into the promised land…

We stayed at a motel on the east end of town, we checked in and then we went into town and took the girls for a walking tour of Western State campus. They loved swimming in the old irrigation ditches at the park and on the streets in town.

We planned Saturday around being with Kirk and Keith. We met at the Brush Creek trailhead. Dennis took the girls for a hike and a swim since he’s not running for hours yet.  Keith went ahead of us as she is a road runner and a lot faster than we are. Kirk and I stayed at leisurely pace and his friend Ben ran with us.

We ran a 15 mile loop most of the way around Mt. Crested Butte that dumps us out at Gothic. It goes on single track trail in and out of meadows and aspen forests, skunk cabbage and wildflowers, spruce and lodgepole pine, between about 9000 and 11000 feet. There are some good steady climbs and gentle descents.
Once we hit the turnoff that heads toward Pearl Pass there were no more motorized vehicles. No more locusts on their dirt bikes and ATVs making noise and tearing up dust.

Finally, peace. For five solid hours. I could hear the birds, the wind blowing the aspen leaves, and creeks flowing and rolling over rocks. It was a perfectly clear day with few clouds in the endless depth of blue. The wildflowers were out, the early season ones were in full bloom- lupine, skyrocket, bluebells, mules ears. The cows weren’t out yet, so things were still in good shape, the water was clean and the trails were clear without cow pies and deer flies.

It was dry for the area, still green, but it felt more like July than June. There was hardly any snow left up high. I used to ride my mountain bike on these trails back when I lived here, before I became an ultraunner. I could remember the rides and trail runs vividly. Views in every direction, of avalanche chutes and dry ski runs and snow cornice-topped red mountains.

We saw a few mountain bikers and a couple other runners, but for a Saturday on a summer weekend, it was surprisingly quiet. The tourist season doesn’t really get going until closer to July. I kept asking Kirk the names of the mountains as I couldn’t remember from 20-30 years ago. More memories flooded my head. Sensory overload.

On our run Kirk and I caught up, as we haven’t seen each other in at least 7 years even though we still talk occasionally. We took our time, at a good hiking pace and running the smooth descents and a few flats.

I felt good. Even though I struggled with the altitude the whole way, as long as I stopped to catch my breath and bring my heart rate down, I was fine. I felt lightheaded the whole way, but it was a good lightheaded. Another 1000 feet higher and it wouldn’t have been a good lightheaded!

I sprained my ankle slightly the week before, so I was a little concerned about the trails, but I forgot how smooth they are. I taped it and brought my ankle brace just in case, but I didn’t need it.

After about 5 1/2 hours, we got to Gothic.  Kirk and Ben went toward Mount Crested Butte, and I went into Gothic, where Dennis and Keith were waiting for me. We hung out at the buildings and I got some cold lemonade. Then we took Keith back to her car at Brush Creek.

That was my longest run since the 24 hour in April.  My legs felt fine, I felt strong with the climbing and running, it was just the lack of oxygen that was difficult.

We went back to Gunnison to get cleaned up and then headed back up to Crested Butte where we met Kirk and Keith for dinner at Donita’s. I worked at Donita’s bussing tables for a short time before I started coaching at Western State College in the late 80s. While we were there we saw people I’ve known since those days- Kay, Heli, and another woman, Jenny, whom I knew from 30 years ago. It was funny, she remembered me as “the runner”.   

Town has a lot more retail development and houses all around, things look newer and shinier, but fortunately the locusts were few. It wasn’t busy at all, we walked right into Donita’s at 6 pm on a Saturday evening and got seated right away. By the time we left it was getting busy.

After, we headed back to Gunnison for the night. The sky was very hazy, there was a big fire north of Durango near Purgatory. To the south you could hardly see anything.

I needed this for my psyche, for a calm feeling, after 2 weeks ago being up in the mountains with all the freaking locusts.

Sunday morning, we planned to meet Duane Vandenbusche, Dennis’s old coach from Western, at the W cafe for coffee. We had an enjoyable conversation and it’s always great to see that he never changes. Now in his 80s, he’s sharp and still remembers everybody and everything, and he looks great.

Then it was time to head back over the hill. We got in line behind the locust train over the passes back to Denver.

The extra 3 hours of driving each way was worth it. One more pass, and that sweet sage smell in the air...spruce, lodgepole pine, along with the aspen and arnica.

Coming back is like coming full circle in life. This is where living started.  

I am thankful that I have the memories from when I lived here and got to explore the backcountry before the throngs of people came. When you could go out and not see anyone else all day.

But there’s still some peace here, there is escape possible, you just have to choose your timing wisely. Until the next adventure...

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